Press Conferences

23 march, 2011 19:13

Vladimir Putin and Boris Tadic attend a news conference on Russian-Serbian talks

Vladimir Putin and Boris Tadic attend a news conference on Russian-Serbian talks
“We are overcoming the aftermath of the global economic crisis and steadily increasing trade. It grew by more than a quarter last year to $1.4 billion, and Russia has firmly established itself among Serbia’s leading trade partners.”
Vladimir Putin
At a news conference on Russian-Serbian talks

Vladimir Putin's address: Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by saying how glad I am to return to Belgrade. I am grateful to my Serbian friends for their heartfelt hospitality.

Our relations have been built upon friendship, mutual assistance, and spiritual affinity for centuries. Today's exchange of opinion with President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, and our other colleagues on a wide range of issues was proof of the profound understanding that exists between our nations to this day. We are overcoming the aftermath of the global economic crisis and steadily increasing trade. It grew by more than a quarter last year to $1.4 billion, and Russia has firmly established itself among Serbia's leading trade partners.

During our talks, we had a detailed discussion of the energy industry – particularly, the implementation of ambitious plans in the oil and gas industry and the construction of the Serbian stretch of the South Stream pipeline. Gazprom representatives introduced the project today with an in-depth account of its potential and the opportunities it promises for Serbia. Notably, the legal phase of the project among all South Stream partners is proceeding on schedule.

An agreement on the incorporation of another European partner was made in Moscow the day before our visit. As you know, Italy's ENI and France's Electricite de France are involved in the project. The German BASF has now joined as well. An agreement was signed in Ljubljana yesterday on the establishment of a joint venture to design, construct, and operate the Slovene stretch of the pipeline. Work on the project is gaining momentum and, doubtless, has acquired a pan-European scale.

Other joint ventures have also been successful: the Banatski Dvor underground gas storage facility will open soon, and there has been generous investment in the modernisation of the NIS (Petroleum Industry of Serbia). Its Russian partner has contributed 500 million euros this year alone.

We attach great importance to a closer partnership in investment. The list of our joint economic ventures grows with every passing day. Russian businesses will also assist Serbia with railway construction and renovation – at any rate, we mentioned this matter today.

For our part, we would like to draw on ample Serbian experience in tourism infrastructure. Today, we discussed the prospects for involving Serbian construction businesses in the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The construction of a regional emergency centre in Nis was one of the items on our agenda. Russian and Serbian rescuers intend to use it as a base for joint disaster relief efforts. We are calling on other Southeast European countries to join the project as well.

We are also interested in closer bilateral cooperation in research, culture, and education and increased contact between our citizens. No doubt, the intergovernmental agreements signed today on scientific and technical cooperation and partnership in the tourist industry will promote such cooperation. I would like to add that Russian Culture Days were a great success in Serbia last September, and Serbian performers will be touring Russia this autumn. I am sure they will have appreciative audiences.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my Serbian colleagues again for extremely constructive talks and for their readiness to strengthen the centuries-long friendship between the Serbian and Russian nations. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin and Boris Tadic answer journalists' questions:

Question: I address my question to both leaders – the Russian prime minister and the Serbian president. Belgrade's political line has lately become pronounced in the European Union. On the other hand, EU legislation, particularly the Third Energy Package, is creating obstacles on the road to a more efficient energy partnership. Do you think it might impede South Stream construction and slow down the growth of [your] partnership? Or will you arrive at fruitful forms of cooperation?

Vladimir Putin: First, Serbia's European orientation and its desire to join the European Union do not alarm us. We will certainly closely monitor the process together with our Serbian colleagues lest European integration impede Russian-Serbian relations. I think that it is quite possible (to achieve a fruitful partnership) and that we will find the right road to take.

As for the Third Energy Package, I have already given my opinion on it. We think that the document should at least be largely amended. We need to hold negotiations with the European Commission as a result. In fact, such talks are underway now. We think that the package clashes with our fundamental agreements on cooperation with the European Union, which have been signed and entered into force. More than that, the package would be to the detriment of Russian energy cooperation with Europe. I have an impression that our partners in Brussels are not deaf to certain arguments – our arguments, at any rate. We had a frank, amicable discussion of the matter during our last visit, and I expect that compromises will be made.

Boris Tadic (as translated): Thank you for an outspoken answer. Membership in the European Union is Serbia's strategic goal. But then, our strategic interests also lie in our all-embracing cooperation with Russia – particularly energy cooperation. On the whole, I don't think that the European Union is capable of solving its energy problems outside a partnership with Russia. In this context, we should seek solutions to all the questions raised by the Third Energy Package, and I am sure that Serbia will be part of such agreements.

Question: My question concerns both leaders – the Russian prime minister and the Serbian president. What joint energy projects do you consider of the greatest interest after today's talks? Which projects will be implemented in the near future – in particular, those funded by Russian loans to Serbia?

Boris Tadic: I dare note once again that we have decided to implement several projects using $800 million from the loan that we have been discussing today. These projects will mainly concern railway cargo transport, and we will implement them one by one.

We also discussed the prospects for Russian investment in the power industry and the modernisation of our thermal power plants in major cities to increase their efficiency and improve municipal heating and electric supply.

We have launched several future-oriented electricity production projects. Possibly, Russian investors would like to act independently here in Serbia. We are also interested in such projects. I don’t mean only the upgrading of our Djerdap 1 and 2 hydropower plants and the thermal power system in Kostolac. We also talked about some other prospective investment projects, such as Djerdap 3.

Agricultural cooperation also has good potential. We are interested in exporting farm produce to Russia and, reciprocally, Serbia would like to import Russian foodstuffs. I am confident that both options have a huge potential for extending trade. I think these are most important sectors at present, to which I could add cooperation in the construction industry. Our economic cooperation has no limits at all, and I think this is one of the principal conclusions from today’s meetings.

Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with Mr President. I would only like to add that, as we said before, we loaned $200 million last year to support the [Serbian] budget. Now, we are considering an $800 million loan to fund certain projects that we are currently analysing. Last year, Gazpromneft invested 290 million, and is prepared to invest another 500 million, as I have said.

Another Russian company, LUKoil, is developing a petrol station chain and three oil depots. Ladies and gentlemen, please notice that LUKoil alone contributed $161 million to the Serbian budget last year.

We are speaking about cooperation in developing agriculture, the transport infrastructure and the power industry. We supply equipment for the Serbian power industry. There are many other fields to which our cooperation could be extended.

We regard high-tech industries as the crucial field of our activities. For example, it was said earlier that nuclear scientists are ready to design a system for the production of medicinal radioactive isotopes. We can establish a production centre, equip it, and train Serbian experts for it. We are also interested in developing the tourist industry. These and many more areas of cooperation are of great interest to us.

Russia has the resources to fund those projects. What matters most is that Serbia should create the right conditions to implement them. As for the present situation, we are satisfied with the scope and level of our cooperation.

Question: What lessons, do you think, has the world learned from the 1999 events, considering the present situation in North Africa and Libya? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I don’t think we should place Serbia and Libya on the same shelf: there is a world of difference between them. At the same time, as I said before, I am alarmed by the ease with which decisions on the use of force in international affairs have been made in the past several years.

As for Libya, you are all aware that severe international isolation was imposed on it after the well-known events related to terrorist threats. Russia complied with those sanctions. However, we suddenly realised that our Western partners had resumed active contacts with Libya. Mr Gaddafi was welcome in all European capitals, and all European leaders visited Libya. As my German friends say, Аlte Liebe rostet nicht (Old love does not rust). We were not particularly concerned about that but when multibillion contracts began to be concluded, we promptly restored our relations with Libya so as not to be ousted to the sidelines.

At present, Libya is torn by civil unrest. Civil war has flared up there, and suggestions have been made for a flight ban to protect civilians by preventing Gaddafi’s Air Force from striking the enemy. It is hard to make such a decision concerning a sovereign state, but it’s for a noble cause.

As we see today, air strikes are made all over the country. How can one protect civilians by using means that increase the number of civilian victims? The situation cannot but cause great concern.

Boris Tadic: As for Serbia, I am sure that I express my nation’s opinion as its president when I say that the plight of Libyan civilians alarms us. We want all decisions to aim at stopping destruction and removing the threat to civilians. My country acquired tragic experience in the 1990s, though I wouldn’t like to draw any parallels. I agree with Mr Putin but civilians must be protected. That is Serbia’s stance.

Everything that concerns Mediterranean security directly affects Serbia and all its neighbours. Peace must be restored as soon as possible. Serbia supports any position that will lead to this goal. An anniversary of air raids in Serbia will come in a few days. We have painful memories of that time, so I am sure that the conflict must be stopped as quickly as possible.

Question: Though you focussed on the economy, I would like to ask Mr Putin to say a few words about Kosovo. In the past, Russia was Serbia’s diplomatic ally in its commitment to preserve Kosovo as part of Serbia. What policy will Russia pursue on this issue in the future? If possible, please comment on the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina which have started recently. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Russia was and will remain Serbia’s closest ally, I am absolutely certain of that. We cannot imagine a different course of action and I hope the same can be said about Serbia. I don’t want to go into the reasons behind that because they are clear to every Serb and every Russian. The reason is rooted in the history of our relations and in the affinity of our two nations.

As for our position, it is based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244. It remains valid, and we will proceed from it in the future.

As for direct contacts between Belgrade and Pristina, domestic policies are the sovereign choice of the Serbian nation. Talks are better than war, fighting and contention, so we welcome these contacts. If necessary, we will support them and do everything we can for their outcome to be the Serbian leadership’s success.

I would like to repeat again that when Serbia benefits from something, we consider that it promotes Russian interests.

Question: What can you say about the title of Honorary Citizen of Kosovo and Metohija bestowed on you?

Vladimir Putin: I accept everything you do in the interests of Serbia. I see the political background of the question and the event it concerns. Still, I say once again that when Serbia benefits from something, we consider that it promotes Russian interests.